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I have always wanted to sneak in a cricket book into a reading challenge, and so I was excited to read Gideon Haigh’sStroke of Genius : Victor Trumper and the shot that changed cricket‘ for ‘April in Australia’.

Gideon Haigh is Australia’s premier cricket writer and cricket historian today. This is my first book of his. In this book, Haigh gives us a biography of Victor Trumper, one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, who played before the First World War. Haigh also focuses on the photo which appears on this book’s cover, which is one of the most iconic cricket photos. Through this photo, Haigh explores the early history of cricket photography. Haigh also shines the light on the growth of the Trumper myth and legend across the decades, after his death.

Victor Trumper was one of Australia’s greatest cricketers. He played during what is sometimes described as the golden age of cricket, which ended with the advent of the First World War. He was one of the first Australian sportspersons to be loved outside his country. Since his time, there have been many great Australian cricketers who have come on the scene, especially the great Donald Bradman, who was frequently compared to him. But Trumper’s life story has assumed the state of a legendary myth filled with magical feats which seem to be beyond compare. This book describes some of those feats, some of those stories. There was a particular description that Gideon Haigh quotes from Arthur Mailey’s book – I cried when I read that.

Stroke of Genius‘ is a beautiful love letter to the great Victor Trumper. It is also a fascinating introduction to the history of cricket photography. I loved it and I am glad I read it.

Have you read ‘Stroke of Genius‘? What do you think about it?

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I heard last week that former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden was coming to town to release his autobiography, ‘Standing My Ground’. I decided to go to the event and so planned for it, went early, staked out a place and waited. Surprisingly, though there was a reasonable crowd, which filled the room in the bookstore, it wasn’t huge and stifling – only the book-reading-cricket-fans were there. Matthew Hayden arrived before time (admire Australian cricketers for this!), greeted the audience, talked about his life, his cricket career and his book and patiently answered all the questions that the fans hurled at him. There were even a few questions on the ‘Monkeygate’ incident and Hayden smartly parried them. I liked the way he spoke slowly in a relaxed tone – it made the audience like him even more. When the Q&A session got over, I took the copies of his book that I had got and stood in the queue and went and got them signed. I had a few words with him too, and Hayden talked quite pleasantly and nicely. He was totally different in person when compared to his persona on the playing field – on the playing field he looks very intimidating with his Queenslander WWF-style physique and hammers bowlers and sledges opponents, while in person he is polite, humorous, fun-loving and pleasant to talk to. In his book, Hayden’s wife Kellie comments on this aspect of his personality when she says :

 

“The Matt I see is different to the one the cricket world may know. People say, ‘Oh, he’s fiery, isn’t he?’ I have trouble relating to that because at home he barely ever raises his voice. In fact, the one time he did, I think Grace and I both started crying out of shock.” 

 

I started reading Hayden’s memoir ‘Standing My Ground’ a few days back and I finished it yesterday. Here is the review.

 

Description of the book 

 

I am giving below the description of the book as given in the inside flap.

 

      Matthew Hayden was one of the most commanding batsmen the game has ever seen – and one of its great enigmas. A devout Catholic, and a ruthless on-field sledger. A brutal enforcer, and a soft-hearted family man. The Australian record-holder for highest score in Tests and One Day Internationals, who was at times troubled by self-doubt and doubters.  

      In Standing My Ground, Hayden confronts these contradictions head-on. He talks frankly about the forces that shaped his journey from fringe international to a giant of the game. He dissects Australia’s tactic of verbal warfare and his own role as a key aggressor, taking us on a privileged tour inside the sporting machine that dominated all comers in a golden age of Australian cricket. 

      This isn’t a predictable ball-by-ball account of a stellar career. Instead, Hayden delivers a characteristically direct assessment of the matches and the people that mattered most. He pays homage to great role models like Allan Border and explains his deep connection to controversial Andrew Symonds, but also reveals colourful clashes along the way. He opens up on umpires, the  media, superstitions, teammates and opponents with disarming honesty and humour. 

      The country boy from Kingaroy rose to greatness in the cricket world. Here is the superstar batsman, the surfer, fisherman and chef in a book as bold and powerful as the man himself.

 

 

What I think 

 

Hayden starts his book with this passage.

 

      I was born, raised and live my life as a Catholic. It’s a very important part of who I am. But there is already one Saint Matthew in the Church, and I’m dead certain there won’t be another one coming from the ranks of recently retired Australian cricketers.

      My favourite saint has always been Saint Peter. Peter didn’t always succeed – he was the man who began walking on water with Jesus, but went for a bit of a dip when his faith wavered, and he was also the one who falsely denied his association with Christ three times before the cock crowed. But although he could be uncertain at times,, Peter was also full of enthusiasm, even rashness. In a religion that decrees ‘thou shalt not’ about so many things, Peter was someone who occasionally wondered, ‘Well, why not?’ I’ve always found great realism – and great comfort – in his story.

 

Good first paragraph 🙂

 

Later in that chapter Hayden says :

 

For all Saint Peter’s foibles and flaws, he came to be regarded as the ‘rock’ of the Church. For all my shortcomings, I wanted to be one of the rocks of the Australian cricket team. This book is about how, for better and worse, I tried.

 

Good start to the book 🙂

 

The book is not structured as a traditional autobiography / memoir – it is not chronological from the beginning to the end. The first chapter of the book is titled ‘Sledging’. Hayden shares his thoughts on sledging, gives interesting sledging anecdotes and also says that sledging is not about chirping with opponents but also intimidating opponents with one’s body language and one’s game. One of my favourite passages from the chapter is where Hayden describes an occasion when he was sledged for a change.

 

It’s only fair to note that I wasn’t always the aggressor where sledging was concerned. Adam Gilchrist loves the story about Holland’s wicketkeeper John Smid giving me both barrels at consecutive World Cups in 2003 and 2007. I can remember him saying things like, ‘We haven’t flown halfway around the world to watch you. Get a single and get Gilly on strike because you are crap.’ This from a Dutch wicketkeeper! Do you mind?

 

Later, Hayden talks about his childhood, his parents and his brother, how he met his wife, his early cricket experiences, how he developed as a player, how he struggled to get a break in international cricket and how he succeeded. He interleaves these chapters with other chapters where he talks about his relationship with different players – team mates, mentors and opponents – and he also adds chapters where he shares his thoughts on different topics related to cricket like superstitions of cricketers, cricket bats, team meetings, umpires, reactions to getting out and others. He gives an insider perspective on these topics and they are quite fascinating to read.

 

My favourite part of the book was the start where Hayden describes his life as a child in his father’s farm. He gives interesting descriptions of his parents which go like this :

 

Mum taught drama at Kingaroy State High School and had real artistic flair…Mum had an enormous work ethic, and it’s great to run in to her former students and hear of how much she helped them with their lives. Her theatrical streak was a strong influence in my life, and I know it’s from her that I inherited my love of performance. I also know it’s thanks to her that I developed a passion for trying my best and being positive. I was in her drama class at school, and she would occasionally start a lesson by saying, ‘Okay, tell me something positive…I don’t want to hear the word no.’ I called her ‘Mum’ in class, because it would’ve seemed downright silly to call her Mrs Hayden…Of all the teachers I had, Mum was definitely number one for strictness. She had to be, teaching drama. If you haven’t got total control of your drama class, you might as well not bother. But I never found it uncomfortable being taught by Mum, and I loved what she was teaching. Drama saved my English studies.

 

He (Dad) was the original Mr Fixit, who saved us thousands of dollars by fixing things that would normally require a call to a tradesman. Depending on what challenge confronted him, he could be a wallpaperer, plumber, painter or builder. He could make parts and even invent ones. He could swap engines from one car to another, weld gates, and I remember him even felling and taking the bark off trees to build yards. The only thing he couldn’t do was cook a roast.

 

Hayden also describes his love, affection and respect for his elder brother Gary, who he says is a powerful influence and inspiration in his life.

 

Another of my favourite parts of the book is where Hayden paints interesting portraits of players who are not so famous today. One of my favourites was his portrait of Carl Rackemann, the muscular, bald, Queensland and Australian fast bowler.

 

Carl’s colourful ways will never be forgotten by those who played with him, and I always liked his personalised pain scale for injuries, from ‘thumb tacks’ to ‘knives’ with all sorts of rankings in between. He was a genuine character with a sense of humour as dry as a bush highway. One of his most characteristic lines came during a rock climbing exercise at training, when he ruefully looked up and down the wall before asking, ‘I’m not sure about this…Do you think Sir Edmund Hillary had a hit in the nets before he climbed Mt Everest?’ And I shared his passion for the land and the region. When precious rain fell on his Kingaroy property he’d just sit on his verandah and watch it in blissful silence. Only a rain-starved farmer could truly understand that feeling. Carl was once asked before a crucial Sheffield Shield game at the Gabba what he would prefer – rain for drought-driven farmers or a dry weekend for the cricket. He looked at the reporter as if they were stupid. The farmers’ plight was always going to be far more important to him than a game of cricket.

 

Opposition players gravitated towards Carl in the dressing-room. Warnie only did one tour with Carl – the West Indies in 1995 – but said at the time his biggest regret in cricket was not touring more with him. Carl never announced his retirement, which was very rare for a big-time player, but just phased himself out of the game. When asked why, he said simply, ‘I didn’t announce my arrival – why should I announce my departure?’

 

One of the things I looked forward to in the book was Hayden’s thoughts on cricketers – mentors, teammates and opponents. I enjoyed discovering what he thought on Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, yesteryear Australian greats. During his playing days Ian Chappell was regarded as an inspiring captain who commanded the loyalty of his teammates and who fought for their rights. He was also a tough man on the cricket field and an attacking captain who brought joy to the spectators – if there were two options on the cricket field, a safe one and an adventurous one, Ian probably opted for the adventurous one. Greg Chappell on the other hand was a stylish batsman – one of the alltime great stylists – and probably a better batsman than his brother Ian. He was also a mentally tough character, who had a good captaincy record too. However, his post-retirement career has suffered seriously, as his coaching stints have not gone well, because he has ruffled feathers and stepped on people’s toes during his coaching stint. Ian Chappell has had a wonderful second innings post-retirement as a star commentator and analyst of the game. He cares for the game and his opinions on the larger issues of cricket and his analysis of captaincy and cricket strategy are among the best. I am a big fan of Ian Chappell’s analysis and I think he is the best commentator and analyst of the game today and a fine ambassador and statesman of the game today. Ian, however, has one facet in his personality, which I am not a big fan of. If he decides that he doesn’t like someone, whatever that person does or achieves, this person can never get Ian’s respect or affection. And if he decides that he likes someone, all the sins of that person are forgiven. Typically the players who get Ian’s favour are the flashy, dashing and debonair stars (like Mark Waugh and Shane Warne) and the players who face his wrath are the hardworking ones (like Steve Waugh). This comes out during his analysis sometimes and that is when one realizes that even the best are imperfect. For example, Ian always says that Steve Waugh is neither a good captain nor a good player when in reality, Steve Waugh’s record is exceptional – he started his career as a bits-and-pieces allrounder and reinvented himself as an alltime great batsman with all the stats to match that – a 50+ test average, more than 150 tests played, 10,000+ runs, 30+ centuries. As a captain his record is unparalleled in cricket history – his captaincy record is better than that of Mike Brearley, Greg Chappell, Clive Lloyd, Don Bradman and Mark Taylor. Sorry for the long yarn – I just wanted to give the context 🙂 So, I was really interested in what Hayden, being the hardworking guy, thought about Ian and Greg Chappell. I was also interested in finding out what he thought about Ian Chappell’s proteges Mark Waugh and Shane Warne and what he thought about Steve Waugh, Ian Chappell’s badboy, but under whose captaincy Hayden flowered into a worldclass batsman and an alltime great. This is what Hayden says about Ian Chappell’s views on coaching.

 

I totally disagree with claims by Ian Chappell that the only coach you need is the one that takes you to the ground. Buck (John Buchanan, the Australian cricket coach) often challenged you and was ahead of the game in his thinking.

 

If you are wondering why Hayden took on Ian Chappell here, the answer comes in another part of the book. The relevant passage goes like this.

 

I was playing county cricket in Hampshire at the time, and was interviewed by a journalist from the county’s Daily Echo about some comment Ian Chappell had made suggesting I was ‘suspect’ against the game’s best bowlers. I always loved a good scrap, and because I didn’t think my remarks would go much beyond the county, I fired up and had a few strong things to say about Ian and his thoughts.

 

It looks like the ‘hardworking’ Hayden was a victim of the Ian Chappell wrath too.

 

There is an interesting anecdote about Greg Chappell that Hayden describes towards the beginning of the book.

 

Just as tempers reached boiling point, Australia A coach Greg Chappell stepped in. He told me that at any other time he’d encourage me to continue making my point, but that it wasn’t the time or place. As always, Greg, for whom I have the deepest respect, was the voice of reason. I was the youngster trying to push my way into a world-beating Australian side. The last thing I needed on my resume was a black mark for exchanging pleasantries with a Test legend, one of the biggest cricketing voices in the country.

 

Hayden continues in the same positive vein, about Greg Chappell, for the rest of the book.

 

There is an interesting passage where Hayden talks about himself as a cricketer and also talks about Steve and Mark Waugh.

 

      Throughout my career my greatest challenge was never proving myself to the opposition. My biggest battles were internal. I had to prove myself to me, then my teammates and the selectors. At that time I knew there were plenty of teammates who didn’t especially rate me. Mark Waugh would have been one of these. The game came so easily to Junior that he didn’t rate many people. I could just imagine him saying of me,’Works hard, good player but you wouldn’t call him a champion.’ The thought doesn’t offend me – Junior was Junior and I loved the way he said precisely what he thought. But it was also why, despite my affection for him, I gravitated more towards Stephen, because he knew how hard the game could be. Stephen and I could relate to each other’s struggles.

 

Steve Waugh, probably championed Hayden’s cause and inspired Hayden to realize his potential as a cricketer and Hayden makes sure to mention that in the book. Interestingly, Steve Waugh says in the blurb about Hayden :

 

“No one ever gave Haydos any free passes. He got there the hard way. The biggest accolade you can give a player is that they changed the perception of how a role should be played. Matthew took opening to a new level with his aggressive, dominating style. As a captain the greatest joy you can have is seeing a player fulfil his potential, which Haydos certainly did.”

 

I found those lines very inspiring.

 

Hayden has interesting things to say about Australian legspinning legend and Ian Chappell protege, and probably the greatest captain the Australian cricket team never heard, Shane Warne. Here is one passage where Hayden talks about Warne’s fraternising with opposition players during the 2005 Ashes.

 

During that series I was also tested by Warnie’s fraternising with the opposition. Top players in the opposition sides like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara often chummed up with Warnie, and that summer it was Kevin Pietersen’s turn. It probably shouldn’t have annoyed me, but our strength had always been our tightness as a team unit. I look back now and realise maybe my own insecurities were to blame. When Warnie mingled with guys like Pietersen, I was asking myself, What’s he doing? In fact, Warnie was doing fine. He took a phenomenal 40 wickets for the series. If the rest of us had been firing anywhere near as well, we’d have won the Ashes at a canter.

 

In another place Hayden talks about the boot-camp which was conducted for the Australian cricket team in preparation for the Ashes in 2006-07. He talks about Warnie’s behaviour during the boot-camp and how he hated it and the training part of cricket.

 

      We had to lay our clothing out on the floor, as well as medication such as asthma sprays. Predictably, Warnie had too much stuff, including several packets of Benson & Hedges, which were taboo. The man in charge came straight up to him and said, ‘What are these?’ Warnie said solemnly, ‘They’re medicinal.’ Then he added firmly, ‘Just to set the record straight: I’ll line up, I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but if these don’t go, the King’s not going.’

      The durries went on the camp and so did Warnie.

      So the iron-clad army rules were broken – in the first hour of the camp! This had been an opportunity for Buck to break Warnie, but instead the King got his way.

 

Hayden also talks about why Warne would have made a great Test captain, and also why he wouldn’t have.

 

      I laughed at the incident – you just had to – because that defiant side of Warnie always cracked me up. Great talent often comes with a bit of rebelliousness. Deep down, though, I had mixed feelings about Warnie getting away with it because the purpose of being there was to knuckle down and rebuild together. And if you weren’t going to be part of the solution, you were only creating more problems. The ‘my way or the highway’ mentality was the reason we were having the camp in the first place. Strategically Warnie might have made a great Test captain, but I’m not sure he’d have been as successful as the two men chosen ahead of him, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, because he would not have been as inclusive as they were.

 

I am not sure about Hayden’s view, because Warnie has subsequently distinguished himself as a highly inspiring captain in the IPL, taking his underdog team all the way during the first season. But I think Hayden has a point – Warne was an old-fashioned cricketer, who liked working on his skills and didn’t like the physical training part of cricket, which have become a part of cricket today.

 

Hayden also describes his fascinating relationship with Andrew Symonds, his fellow Queensland and Australian teammate and the time when their boat capsized and how they swarm for a mile in shark-infested waters to reach the shore. Hayden also talks about his fellow openers across the years, Michael Slater (Slats) and Justin Langer (Alfie), about his mentors Bob Simpson and Allan Border,  and about his tussles with players from opposition teams – Hansie Cronje, Muralidharan, Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni and. Shoaib Akhtar. Hayden also talks about his tours of India, where had his breakout innings and how he loved the IPL. There is one passage where he talks about the complexity of India.

 

I once heard that when New Zealander John Wright was asked about the challenges of coaching India, he simply pulled an Indian banknote out of his pocket and pointed to it. There’s one sentence on the note that is explained in Indian 15 languages, from Bengali to Nepali to Tamil and a dozen others. 

 

Hayden also talks about his love for surfing. When asked during the book-release-event who his favourite sportsperson was, Hayden said that it was a surfer (I forget the name he mentioned). Here is an interesting passage from the book on surfing.

 

I found hitting cricket balls addictive because I loved the sensation of the bat cracking the ball. But the reality of the game is that you don’t get the chance to do that very often. In surfing, you’re absolutely involved all the time…Surfing is all about balance, and balance equals power – on the board and at the batting crease. Moving about the batting crease seems easy compared to moving on a board. And all the paddling involved helps your shoulders and throwing strength as well. If there’s a perfect sport to help you train for cricket, I reckon it has to be surfing.

 

The book has an introduction by Andrew Flintoff and a piece in the end by Kellie Hayden, Matthew’s wife.

 

The book concludes with Hayden’s World XI, comprising the list of opposition players Hayden admires. The usual suspects (Sachin, Sehwag, Lara, Ambrose, Akram) are all there, but there are some surprising omissions – Waqar Younis is not there (I love Wasim Akram – he is one of my favourite players. But Waqar’s record stacks up with the best – he has one of the best alltime bowling strikerates in test matches, which is better than Akram’s, and I remember once in England during a One Day series in 2003, he bent the ball at will and took 6 wickets, 7 wickets, and 6 wickets in three consecutive matches – I don’t think any bowler has bowled like that ever! I feel that the sad thing is that Waqar is not a flamboyant and articulate character, while Wasim is and that seems to have carried the day), Dale Steyn is missing and so is Allan Donald – all very surprising. But there are only eleven places in the team and Hayden is entitled to choose his favourites 🙂

 

Interesting pictures

 

My favourite pictures from the book were these two. The first shows Hayden when he was a boy growing up in his family’s farm. He is the plump boy on the left. The second shows him celebrating his first test century.

 

 

 

 

 

If a plump boy can become the handsome hunk Hayden, I think there is some hope for the rest of us 🙂

 

 

In Conclusion

 

Hayden’s biography is an inspiring read. It is wonderful to read how a farm boy pursued his passion and inspite of tough setbacks went on to become one of the world’s greatest cricketers. If you are a cricket fan, this book is a must read.

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